I’m writing two separate blog posts, one about the young men’s production and process and one about the young women’s. This one is all about the women.
Despite being located in the cosmopolitan capital city, it seems that this theater group is the first all women’s group in Kabul. Many of these young women, even though they have studied theater at university, have not performed on the stage for audiences – not even in university productions. Well, here’s their chance! They are talented, smart, passionate, and ready to shout from the rooftops.
The play they’ve chosen to write and perform deals with illiteracy, male domination, sexual harassment at the workplace, and female solidarity!
The title … “Rights Cannot be Given, They Must be Taken”.
Say it again sisters!
The play begins with our two narrators who are commenting on the play from the spirit world. They are Amina’s mother and father and they are portraits that hang on the wall in her home. The play opens with Amina who is illiterate and is learning how to read with the help of her friendJamila. But Amina’s abusive husband finds her studying one day and frightens Amina into telling Jamila that she doesn’t want to study anymore.
Jamila knows that this is wrong and brings Amina to see the local mullah. He supports Amina’s desire to read and talks to her husband.
Amina’s husband relents, though he isn’t happy about it, and Amina gets to learn how to read and write. Menewhile, Jamila has problems of her own. Her husband is sick and she’s been trying to get a job. She’s just come to Amina’s home after an interview at an office where the boss sexually harassed her and came on to her. She’s distraught and wants to give up. Amina tells her that she can’t give up. What about other women out there who can’t afford to turn down a job, even with a lecherous boss? They decide to go to the police for help but they are turned away. Frustrated but not daunted, Amina has another idea. She brings Jamila to her school.
They talk to the women in the school about the situation and together the women decide to confront the dirty old boss as a group. They march into his office and let him know that he’s being watched and they are going to make sure that he never disrespects another woman again. Amina and Jamila, and all the women are victorious!
I can’t wait to see how it plays with female audiences and what people say and do during the talk backs and “lightning forum” bits we’ve set up. A lightning forum is one tactic in the Theater of the Oppressed form called forum theater. Instead of replacing the main character on stage and trying a possible solution, audience members just get to take a turn saying something to the oppressor character.
I wonder what might happen when women start listening to different options, different ways of standing up for themselves?
It took the theater group some time to figure out how Amina and Jamila could fight back. At first, they said that there was nothing that the women could do. It was only the two of them, the police wouldn’t listen. We had to discuss the problem for a while, coming at it from different angles before someone thought to include other women. One of the participants said that sometimes, women are afraid to speak to one another because they are afraid that someone will spread rumors that the women will start talking about each other. Internalized oppression and disunity is a powerful weapon of the oppressor.
I hope that such interventions aren’t simply magical and can be built on and realized in Afghan society. These young women have their futures ahead of them and I hope they choose solidarity.